No one wants to tell the boss the bad news, so uncomfortable truths often get softened as negative reports make their way up the ladder. It’s bad in the business world, even worse for fighting a war. The truth hurts — but not nearly as much as a failed strategy built on doctored information.

According to reports last week, senior intelligence officials at the U.S. military’s Central Command demanded that analysts rewrite reports that questioned the long-term success of the fight against the Islamic State. Negative reports were tossed back onto analysts’ desks for revision, analysts said; good news tended to sail through.

Much of the U.S. intelligence establishment appears to be in open rebellion. More than 50 veteran intelligence officers have formally complained about the pressure to manipulate reports: “It became pretty clear if they wrote something bad, it was likely to be changed,” said one whistle-blower. “Knowing that bad news on ISIS wasn’t welcome meant that, over time, the picture of the fight began being rosier.”

Even in the midst of an investigation into the intelligence-doctoring allegations, Centcom doesn’t seem shy about shading the facts. Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “progress is being made.” When pressed, he conceded that the effort to use local ground forces to fight the Islamic State in Syria amounted to just “four or five” fighters.

The answer would be laughable if it weren’t such an obvious effort to deceive, if the stakes weren’t so high. The Obama administration must come to grips with reality and determine how much information has been skewed to satisfy political objectives. It is time for frankness through the intelligence ranks and bosses who aren’t afraid to deliver unvarnished truth.

Falsified intelligence is an institutional curse that compounds policy missteps, each becoming more difficult to correct. This was the curse of Vietnam, where success was unwisely measured in enemy body counts and airstrikes. It was the mistake made in Iraq over suspected weapons of mass destruction. Now U.S. policy seems to be stumbling down the same flawed rabbit hole in fighting ISIS.

It is never wise to underestimate an enemy, particularly one as deadly and brutal as ISIS. And rigging reports to fit a public political narrative will not win wars or make the world safer. Full accountability is needed and the Obama administration must demand it now.

Editorial by the Dallas Morning News

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